• Folarin Debellotte

Guide to African Fabric

Did you know that the African textiles tradition dates to 5,000 BC? Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta was impressed by Mali’s cloth weavers while visiting in the 1300s AD. African prints remain so fresh that mainstream designers, like Zara and H&M, headline their collections with them to this day. African print fashion has a storied history worth celebrating. Read on for your ultimate guide to African cloth.


Today, a rich tradition of textile production thrives in Africa. Designs contain vibrant cultural and historical associations.

From bogolan to kente, prints evoke the past and create a sense of belonging. They reference geography and even look to the brightness of the future.

The patterns and colors in African print fashion inspire feelings and memories. They represent an ancient visual language passed down for generations. Let’s take a look at three patterns that typify African textile art: Ankara, Bogolan, and Kente.


Influenced by Indonesian batik, Ankara fabrics are manufactured in West Africa and the Netherlands. The wax designs contain nonverbal cues that West African women are adept at reading. Some wax prints represent personalities. Others symbolize geographic locations, proverbs or special occasions. Ghana consumes approximately 130 million yards of manufactured fabric each year. Some patterns are named for textiles, traditionally produced by tribes such as the Ashanti and Ewe.


Bogolan or “mud” cloth hails from Mali. The process uses dried leaves and tree bark as dyestuffs. This process makes the fabric eco-friendly and organic.

The cloth is hand woven on village looms. Then pieces are sewn together to create breadths of fabric wide enough to make garments and other items.

The fabric is dyed a vibrant red or yellow. Then a toothbrush is used to apply fermented mud from the Niger River onto it. Sometimes templates are used but often fabric creators freehand the patterns they create. The mud reacts with the natural dyes through a process of oxidization. Once finished, the mud washes away to reveal stunning designs.

Bogolan cloth gets exported all over the world and remains a symbol of Malian cultural identity. Worn by hunters, it serves as camouflage and a means of ritual protection. Women don the fabric after initiation into womanhood and immediately following childbirth.


Native to the Akan of West Ghana, Kente cloth features weft designs in vibrant colors. These are woven into every block of the fabric. West Africa’s strong tradition of cloth weaving is typified in Kente’s intricate patterns and vibrant colors.

The colors featured in each pattern contain meaning. For example, black represents maturity and spiritual energy. Blue symbolizes peace and love.

In Western cultures, Kente stoles are donned by some African American college students during graduation. They act as a nod to their rich heritage.

Considered Ghana’s national fabric, the most expensive pieces of Kente contain actual gold threads. Royalty donned these exquisite textiles in times past.


The African textiles mentioned here are just the beginning when it comes to stunning fiber creations. Africa is known for its amazing visual arts and first among these remains fiber arts

Interested in learning more about African textile patterns? Contact Ankara and Lace today for information about African fabric. We will help you find the perfect patterns and pieces for your wardrobe.

Ankara and Lace is the world’s leading online African fabric store. We strive to be the most trusted and inspirational fabric store in the world, providing a flawless customer experience through passion and continuous innovation.Today as in times past the four cornerstones of our business remain price, selection, customer service and innovation

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